There won't be cars like the VXR8 again – and there's plenty to recommend one beyond mere nostalgia value
By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, January 3, 2021
- Available for £13,000
- 6.0 or 6.2 litre V8 petrol, NA or supercharged, rear-wheel drive
- Up to 850hp available
- Drivetrain is strong, but standard clutch will go on tuned cars
- By no means posh
- Good community knowledge
Search for a used Vauxhall VXR8 here
Which Reynolds do you like best, Ryan or Burt? As an intro to a buyer's guide, that question probably sounds a bit peculiar, but the answer you give could tell you whether you'd be a good fit for a Vauxhall VXR8.
This monster-engined, rear-driven homage to the heavy metal days of alligator-wrestling racers like Gerry Marshall and Peter Brock has certainly been a good fit for a lot of PHers. Not only does 'HSV & Monaro' have its own bespoke cubbyhole in the Gassing Station's 'Other Marques', it's the most heavily posted sub-section in there.
What's that now? 'HSV & Monaro'? What happened to the VXR8? It's a badging thing. The first VXR8 of 2007 which replaced the 2001-06 two-door Monaro was the Vauxhalled-up version of Holden Special Vehicles' (HSV) VE Commodore rejig, an Australian four-door bruiser designed to achieve high performance via a relatively low-tech mechanical route using lots of ccs rather than lots of valves.
That first VXR8, which cost just over £35,000 in the UK in 2007, was powered by GM's small-block 415hp/405lb ft 6.0 litre LS2 V8. From April 2008 and for just £65 on top of the old 6.0's price the VXR8 graduated to the 431hp/405lb ft 6.2 litre LS3 motor from the C6 Corvette and Camaro SS. You'd struggle to notice the difference between the LS2 and the LS3 on the road though. The 0-62mph time was the same at 4.9sec.
Bathurst edition 6.2s came out in 2009 in both normally aspirated and 564hp/547lb ft supercharged S models. They had adjustable Walkinshaw suspension with modded spring and damper settings, six and four-pot brakes, a bodykit, interior revamp, a 20-inch wheel option and, in the blown £45,000 S, the most prominent supercharger whine this side of a Messerschmitt 109. It idled quietly enough but everything changed when you cracked the throttle, especially if the £1,600 VXR option of a Walkinshaw 'bimodal' cat-back exhaust with 2.5-inch stainless pipery was fitted. It wasn't just a load of noise and fury either: a Bathurst S would storm through the 0-62 in 4.2sec.
VXR8s were revamped inside and out for 2011 with a new 'Shockwave' grille, 'Superflow' rear spoiler, LED taillights, bigger brakes (365mm), mechanical limited slip diff and leather upholstery as standard. A key chassis change was the arrival of Magnetic Ride Control, an Audi R8-style system which used magnetorheological damper fluid to hone comfort, body control and tyre load at speed. For the same £49,500 in 2013 you could get a VXR8 Tourer estate. It was the most capacious estate on the British market and courtesy of the LS3 motor it did the 0-62 in 4.9sec. There aren't many of them about.
For 2014 the GTS got the four-lobe supercharged LSA engine with air-to-water intercooler already used in the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. It still had a pushrod-activated two-valve head but that didn't stop it banging out an easy 585hp. With prices starting at around £50,000 the GTS was the UK's most affordable 500hp+ car, but with some serious German tackle like the M5 and E63 challenging it, it was still very much a niche purchase here despite being nearly £20k cheaper than either of those two. Buying an HSV in the home market of Australia was much more of a no-brainer decision because the GTS was $92,000 against the import-taxed $250k Germans.
Back in the UK, for a niche within a niche you could get the riotous VXR8 Maloo pickup, possibly one of the most esoteric production vehicles ever. The target demographic consisted of one person – Ken Block on his weekly shop. In fact, thanks to an LSD, long gearing and some clever suspension tweaks a surprisingly large percentage of the Maloo's power and torque reached the tarmac via its lightly-loaded rear wheels. It was the most powerful commercial vehicle on sale in the UK and, unless you know different, the only one with a launch control option (on the manual versions anyway). Nasty exchange rates made it stupidly expensive in the UK at £66k, but you could at least tell your accountant to reclaim the VAT.
2017 was also the year in which Holden's Australian factories shut down, closing the HSV/VXR8 book for good, but not before one last firework was launched, the GTS-R (a reference to the well-loved 1996 Commodore GTS-R). Producing 587hp and 545lb ft, this was the fastest ever VXR8. Bearing in mind what we said earlier about Holdens, it was also the fastest ever Vauxhall.
Just fifteen GTS-Rs were allocated to the UK market in both manual and auto forms. Hitting the same 0-62 time of 4.2sec as the earlier S they were quickly snapped up despite Vauxhall having somehow levered the price up to just under £75,000, a far cry from the sub-£30k asked for the first Monaros. In its defence, by this time the kit list was both long and impressive, including 410mm six-piston brakes, 20-inch 'blade' alloys, brake torque vectoring, Magnetic Ride Control, launch control, electronic power steering, four drive modes, blind spot alert/forward collision/lane departure alerts, rear camera, tyre pressure monitoring and a head-up display alongside the usual battery of driving aids such as electronic brakeforce distribution, electronic stability programme (ESP), brake assist and traction control. Like the straight GTS, the R weighed 1,880kg and was still a bear of a car, but its temperament was more sharply defined. There was enough low-end torque to make the bottom four gears redundant, enough squirt in the intermediate gears to build daft slip angles on demand, and enough of a burst at 4,000rpm to fling your brain straight to Mount Panorama.
Big, loud and mechanically simple, the VXR8 was a luxuriantly-'tached Smokey and The Bandit response to the creeping gentrification of performance saloons. To unleash your inner Burt Reynolds all you needed was a few too many beers, a few too many hours listening to country and western music, a blue-collared shirt and a VXR8. That's a caricature, obviously, but it's a fact that Vauxhall's first VXR8 customers were Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Evo owners. Objectively the VXR8 is a big four-door saloon with a large boot and enough space for even a pre-nuclear Aussie family. At nearly five metres long it's a handful in multi-storeys, but with the right exhaust in place you won't mind.
If you prefer its predecessor, the Monaro coupe, go here to find our previous buying guide. Don't think that you'll find that to be a cheaper option though: Monaros have a strong fanbase of their own and good examples fetch big money. Low mile VXR500s can easily make £40k.
SPECIFICATION | VAUXHALL VXR8 (2007-2017)
Engine: 6,162cc, V8
Transmission: 6-speed manual or automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],000rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],600rpm
0-62mph: 4.9 secs
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
MPG (official combined): 20.9
CO2: 320g/km (man)
Wheels: 20in (VXR8 19in)
Tyres: 245/35 (f), 275/30 (r)
On sale: 2007 – 2017
Price new: from £49,500
Price now (all VXR8s): from £13,000
(Figures are for the 2008-on LS3)
Note for reference: car weight and power data are hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE AND GEARBOX
The 0.2-litre displacement gain of the LS3 over the LS2 was achieved via a bore increase. The stroke was unaltered. Straighter intakes and modded exhaust ports were added to optimise flow efficiency. These GM lumps can run happily for very high mileages. On both engines some piston slap can be heard when cold, but that's normal.
The six-speed auto is a decent enough thing but it's only a torque converter rather than a twin-clutcher, so you may be in the majority in preferring the six-speed manual. 180 LS2 manuals were made against 120 autos. For the 6.2 LS3 the numbers were 164 manual and 102 auto. The manual's shift quality isn't exactly on a par with a Focus 1.6's for slickness or speed, and reverse can sometimes be hard to engage (try a forward gear first), but the 'box feels strong and for some that will be more important. The standard clutch isn't the best and can cost £1,000 to replace. An LS7 clutch upgrade is strongly recommended for tuned manuals and is a good idea generally as it has no known issues.
As far as UK owners are concerned, they can get their VXR8s serviced at a Vauxhall dealer if they so desire. Well, at some of them anyway. As of not so very long ago there were around thirty VXR8 service specialists within the UK Vauxhall network. These folk, plus non-dealer specialists, might charge a little more for their services, but the higher labour charge will often be offset by the specialist knowledge that allows them to spend less time on certain jobs, like for example sorting out the gearbox slave cylinder which can take a while if you don't know the shortcuts. Servicing generally is not expensive.
For many VXR8 owners, tuning is a big part of the fun. With the right kit of mapping, induction, exhaust and cooling parts installed by the right people, supercharged cars can churn out 850hp and more. Keeping the blown engines cool is critical to their ability to produce this sort of power without grenading.
The name that was always top of the tree for advice and parts was Monkfish, where standup guys Andy and Roger provided an honest service and a great attitude, but to the community's dismay Monkfish closed down in 2017. Still going, however, for parts and (in some cases) service are Walkinshaw Performance in Chipping Norton for southern-based owners, AAS (Advanced Automotive Systems) in Newcastle-upon-Tyne for those in the north, and MW Performance in Chester for anyone in between. Other names regularly recommended are Neil at NWJ Autocare in Maidstone and Bellinger VX in Abingdon. They ended their new Vauxhall sales franchise this year, but the last time we looked they were still VX service agents.
Luis Sola at APS Performance is very highly rated for his tuning work. The fact that APS's place is in Melbourne, Australia shouldn't put you off because they offer (amongst other things) remote powertrain remapping on cars with both the standard ECU, or the more accommodating aftermarket ones. Carl Herkes and Isaac at LS Performance in Southampton (and on the Facebook HSV forum) are equally respected for their VXR8 work. Luis and Carl work together and hold joint live Q&A sessions on Facebook. These are well worth checking out even if you're not yet an owner because they'll show you the enthusiasm and expertise that's out there for these cars. Wortec is another good source for info and parts on engine upgrades.
Prices for remap/tunes can seem high at comfortably over £1,000, but the top guys in this field put in a lot of time and fettling to establish a solid benchmark on the dyno before getting the cars running as they should – with the remap and then re-dynoing for a final polish. Your car will probably spend a week away from home but most – if not all – owners who have stumped up the dough for this sort of work have declared the before-and-after to be 'night and day' and excellent value.
Some owners have had problems with wear to the higher gears and diffs of tuned VXR8s, probably as a result of transmission shunt under acceleration and deceleration. The products of Texas-based lubrication manufacturer Royal Purple are highly rated among VXR8 fans, and many would also advocate the use of posh petrol.
Although the standard VXR8 multilink-rear chassis was actually very good for a steel-bodied car of this size and heft, an argument could be made for the earlier, normally aspirated cars feeling a little heavy to drive. You couldn't really say the same thing about the 2011-on GTS or the supercharged cars, however. With direct steering and the right driving mode selected, the faster you went the more entertaining things became. In these Magnetic Ride Control cars, both of the system's settings (Performance and Track) gave more than acceptable ride quality on public roads and the balance of slip and grip was nicely judged.
An advisory note was sent out early on in the car's life (in 2008) recommending the replacement of the engine mounts and the ARB bushes, so if a car you're looking at displays an adverse degree of suspension knocking at the front you should check that this work has been carried out. Check the suspension mounts and take control arms to be consumable items. They can last for as long as 50,000 miles but can just as easily fail at 10,000.
As you might expect on a big, beefy car like this, brake discs wear at a fair rate. Some owners have found it cheaper to import brake parts from Australia than to pay Vauxhall UK prices.
Although Phantom Black was the most popular VXR8 colour, it was also available in red, blue, silver, grey (Evoke) and white – this is not a car for shrinking violets. The snorty front end and urgent colour schemes will shoutily announce your presence on every trip, which might not always be what you want.
The strutted boot spoiler lives up to its name by partially spoiling your view to the rear. That's a view you'd ideally want to be clear when motoring along at what feels like an appropriate speed in one of these. Various vented bonnet designs are available to help keep underbonnet temperatures down. Replacement body parts are not cheap so try to avoid damaging any of them.
Water ingress through the pedal box is not unknown. Rear light assemblies can suffer a similar fate and new ones can cost up to £500 a go. In cold weather, fast-flashing indicators and/or non-functioning centre gauges can crop up. There's community knowledge on both of these to help you. Faint knocking from the nearside is usually down to an unsecured brake line which can be easily fixed with a cable tie.
It's very much worth getting the cars undersealed if it's not already been done, as factory protection was skimpy.
Everything seems big in a VXR8 cabin except for the quality. It's not bad, but it's not really any better than you'd expect from a much humbler Vauxhall. The feeling of a £10,000 cabin in a £50,000 car was a disconnect that new VXR8 buyers simply had to swallow. At least they could enjoy five-seat spaciousness (with three Isofix anchor points in the rear) that made German execs feel like bubble cars, sort of, with the comfort and grip of deeply bolstered, 8-way adjustable VXR sports seats up front.
The view from the driver's seat might seem a bit too 'company car' at first sight but it's easy to warm to its brutish charm, especially on the later LSA cars with their two big analogue instruments ahead of the gearshift. The fake carbon fibre trim in the GTS-R was a bit of a turnoff though. Don't expect heated seats, heated steering wheels or heated anything apart from the actual heating system. They don't do a lot of that stuff in Oz. Air-con is provided though, and you should check that the drive belt is still in place as it can be thrown off by hard driving. Poor soldering to the radio can drain the battery.
From the start the VXR8 had an Enhanced Driver Interface that fed dynamics info onto the 5-inch screen, including drift degree and the helpful identification of understeer or oversteer to explain why you just went off the road. You also got aux-in/USB inputs, iPod support and Bluetooth with phone book display and touchscreen dialling.
If it's a big V8 drive you're after, the VXR8 gives you a high percentage of the maximum V8 experience without killing you on purchase and servicing costs. Sure, the fuel and tax outlays will seem sphincter-looseningly high if you're moving from a similarly-priced Hyundai i30 – expect 18-23mpg generally and as little as 10mpg in town – but there's no comparison in the driving experience, and if you ration your outings you can fool yourself into believing that the outgoings aren't too bad. Indeed, when you factor in the high reliability the whole-life costs shouldn't be too bad. Whether you'll be able to stick to any sort of rationed mileage regime in a VXR8 in Performance mode is another matter of course.
In absolute terms even the rortiest versions of the VXR8 came up short when they were pitched against something like a Mercedes AMG E63, but even if the Vauxhall's engineering and development story was less sophisticated than that of some (if not all) of its performance saloon rivals, when it comes to ownership realities there's a lot to be said for simplicity. The GM drivetrain has proved itself more than worthy in terms of performance, tuning potential and reliability. VXR8 build quality didn't come up to the highest standards and the Vauxhall badging wasn't that alluring, but it came in handy when factory backup was needed.
Today there's good value on offer in the low and midpoint sectors of the VXR8 market, especially so when you remember that they were only trickled onto UK roads at the rate of 25 a year. You can pick up an early (2007) LS2 VXR8 with 120,000 miles up for as little as £13,000, with 100,000-mile LS3s from £16,000. Cars in the old Cat D start at under £10k. From the PH classifieds, here's an '09 LS3 auto in Phantom Black. With 52,000 miles, desirable bi-modal exhaust and a heavily-stamped service book it looks decent value at £18,995. This closely comparable red LS3 with a roughly similar mileage a Wortec exhaust shows you the slight price edge a manual car commands. It's maybe not quite as tidy as the black one but it's still a bit dearer than it at £19,495.
A 2009 Bathurst with 60,000 miles will be around £24,000, with the supercharged S versions adding anything up to £10k on top of that. LSA-engined cars are more recent and tend to have lower mileages so that's obviously reflected in the prices. Here's a 12,500-mile, one-owner manual GenF GTS in the rare hue of Fantail Orange. With a 630hp stage 1 remap and a Harrop bimodal exhaust plus headers it's a tenner under £40k.
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